This review was corrected on July 1, 2002.
Must-see fare for fans of the bosomy camp horror queen, “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” (one guess as to the nature of the “hills” in question) may prove more optional for the rest of the moviegoing public. Not that it plays more broadly than your typical teen summer comedy release or that Elvira is necessarily more passe a cultural icon than Scooby-Doo. But, unlike “Elvira, Mistress of Dark,” the diva’s studio vehicle of 14 years ago, this one is an indie and, fittingly enough for a sendup of old Vincent Price/A.I.P. horror flicks, shot in Romania. Pic delivers enough atmosphere and gag mileage to sustain interest, but without solid backing and a healthy advertising budget, cable and home video markets seem the logical choice.
Premise strands Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) and her overweight French maid Zou Zou (Mary Jo Smith) in 1851 Carpathia en route to her opening in the Parisian revue “Yes I Can Can.” Stopping for the night, they encounter the supersensitive Vladimir Hellsubus (Richard O’Brien, writer-creator of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” who here gets to twitch, brood and laugh maniacally) and assorted dysfunctional relatives.
The traditional Translyvanian castle yields the usual crop of sarcastic putdowns (“perhaps he’s seen your act,” Zou Zou suggests after Elvira sends the resident ghoul screaming from the room), insider gags (about to arise from her bubble-bath, Elvira stops to put a robe on lest she “blow the ratings”) and deconstructive zingers (watching a Romanian native’s badly dubbed, out-of-synch lips in fascination, she turns to the camera and asks “how does he do that?”). There are endless de rigeur tit gags, not that Elvira’s gravity-defying pair are the only ones to be so distinguished: Zou Zou is wont to pull from her cleavage all manner of objects.
Script (co-written by Peterson) abounds in genre parody, offering slapstick variations on just about every Poe cliche that Roger Corman ever tackled: pits, pendulums, women immured behind brick walls, premature burials, plagues and curses (“Curse? – but you look so fresh all over!”), all weighing in somewhere between the Three Stooges and Mel Brooks. There’s even a nod of the axe to “The Shining.” And anachronism can always be counted on to bring down the house (particularly at a gay and lesbian fest): “The village people say the castle is evil — Who listens to the village people any more?” Pic’s penultimate gag — the castle, succumbing to internal tremors, splits in half and sinks like Cameron’s Titanic — boasts special effects so cheesy that they’re almost worth the price of admission.
Tech credits, especially decor and music, are faithful to the horror canon, good enough to set the stage but not so authentic as to detract from the high camp happenings.